Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a suburb called Alexandria, inner western Sydney and stone throws from Redfern Oval.
What was your childhood like?
It was a great childhood. We had a lot of mixed races in that area, from migrants, to aboriginals. I have got two brothers and three sisters. One brother passed away in 1982, everybody else is still alive.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid?
I did, we had swapping competitions and we played the games where you threw the cards up onto the wall and you could lose your cards if you didn’t get them close enough. We’d have days where you all swapped, if you had doubles you would swap
What was your first football experience?
The first that I can remember was at Alexandria Park, I played for Alexandria Rovers as a kid. There would be three or four games in a row. We lived across the road and all of our mates would go there. I played touch with the Alexandria Rovers A-Grade. It was part of my growing up experience and I really enjoyed it.
Who were your football heroes as a kid?
Not really many as individuals, South Sydney as a team. I always followed them as a kid and if you lived in that area you followed them as a team. Obviously, they were winning all the way through my childhood, 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Tell us about your junior football days?
I played with the Alexandria Rovers all the way up until I was 14 and then a lot of guys moved out west and we didn’t have a side, so I moved to the Wardmil Warratahs for about four or five years, they were basically a club up the street. There were a lot of kids left over in my age group and whoever was left went up there.
So what got you to the Roosters?
My first year with the Roosters was in 1977. Bill Anderson was the Under 23’s coach. He came to my home, I was living at Earlwood at the time and asked if I would like to come down to Sydney Sportsground to have a trial. I said “I would love to”.
I went down and after the trial Billy came to my home and said “We would like you to play next year with us”. He spoke to my Mum and Dad and I said “What do you think?”. They said “If you can do it, do it!”
So myself and Nathan Gibbs trialled in the same group and both of us played for the Roosters in ’77.
What was it like playing for the Roosters in 1977?
Basically, I was one of the youngest, so the older guys always looked after you. Trevor Barnes was a great friend of mine. Kevin Hastings who was also young at the time. Obviously, Nathan Gibbs and Brad Tennant was my closest friend at the time, even though he didn’t kick on into a higher level. He lived at Erskineville, I used to pick him up for training and then I would drop him at home for that whole year, he is a real close mate of mine.
I was 17 so they all looked after me.
NSW Under 18’s side?
We played two games. The first game was in Queensland and we ended up winning by quite a big score. Queensland had Wally Lewis, Mark Murray. Paul Vautin actually had quite a good game, he was the standout player for Queensland.
A lot of us had come from Grade, like Under 23’s and they weren’t playing in that sort of competition. We had a fair side, players like Steve Folkes, Nathan Gibbs, Martin Meredith, Steve Ella, Geoff Bugden, Peter Tunks and Jack Gibson was the coach.
The second game was at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and we ended up winning there with quite a good score as well. The Queenslanders got down there late, their plane was delayed. They got to the ground with about half an hour to go and they had to rush onto the field.
We had a very good side, good people, it was a good time. It was the first time I had played for a NSW, it was a terrific experience.
The NSW side the following year was a pretty good one too, a lot of good players came out of that one too. Queensland had a few too. Mal Meninga came the following year.
How about your first game at Easts?
The first two games I was on the bench and I came on off the bench. My first line up game was against North Sydney and the Cricket Ground because that was the Roosters home ground.
I was playing 23’s at the time, mate running onto the Cricket Ground. Nostalgia wise I loved the cricket ground, it is still our home ground. It is amazing that it was our home ground and it was magic at the time.
I didn’t play much Second Grade at the Roosters that year. Mal Connell was the Second Grade hooker at the time and he ended up playing a little First Grade that year. Basically at 17 years old they kept me in 23’s for the majority of the year. I sat on the bench a couple of times for First Grade.
I was on the bench one time for First Grade against Souths at the Cricket Ground and we were in the front by a good score and Souths were struggling and George (George Piggins) and Lurch (John O’Neill) were in the Front Row. Beetso came over to the sideline and asked would you like to come on for the last ten minutes. I thought Not in this game you are not. I wasn’t going to go against Lurch and George, they would have killed me. So I thought Maybe not today.
What made you move to Souths in 1978?
Billy Anderson moved to Souths in 1978. He asked Nathan (Nathan Gibbs) and I to come over. Gibbo (Jack Gibson) had just taken over the First Grade and that is what we did. Whether it was right or wrong. Remembering we were 17 or 18, Billy made quite an impression on us, he was a pretty high profile at the time. We trusted him because he got us to the Roosters in the first place.
It was a great opportunity to come home to Souths but felt like let Arthur Beetson down a little bit. He was the head coach of the Roosters. He also put a lot of time into us as well, he is a great mentor of people. I was leaving a club full of internationals and going to a club that was starting to rebuild and that was a challenge. Beetso (Arthur Beetson) was always a great supporter of mine and Nathans. Sometimes felt like I let him down but the decision was made and we went.
How was the culture at Souths compared to the Roosters?
The culture was the same. A lot of Roosters players came at the same time including Trevor Barnes. There were a lot of players there who I already knew because I played junior footy with.
The transition was pretty easy, it didn’t take long to settle down.
How was your playing progression at Souths?
I played Under 23’s for the first couple of games and Kenny Stewart got hurt and then George Piggins got hurt at training on Tuesday night and had to have a cleanout of his cartilages in his knee. Gibbo (Jack Gibson) looked at me as asked “Are you ready?” I said “We will have to see what happens”.
We were up against the Roosters at Redfern Oval. The opposing Hooker was Arthur Mountier who had been recruited. Bob O’Reilly and Beetso were there in the Front Row. Ron Coote, Bunny Reilly were there, Bozo (Bob Fulton) was playing 5/8. I sat there and looked at the team list and thought “What am I doing here?” These guys were all legends, they may have been coming to the end of their career, but they were still great players at the time.
We were a struggling club and didn’t have too many big names in our team, with the exception of Rocky (Robert Laurie), Paul Sait, Johnny Berne and those sort of guys. It was a bit of a no name team. We ended up winning the game which was an even bigger buzz. 10-8, I scored a try.
How hard was it coming up against some of these tough hookers back in the day?
I came up against Ray Higgs in 1978 when he was playing for Manly, playing Hooker. It was just a head butt a thon. You knew it was coming, they knew it was coming. It was a bit like playing Wests, you knew what the game was going to be like. You gave as good as you got, otherwise you got chewed up.
How was the rest of your time at South Sydney?
The second year I struggled a little bit, think I had the wrong attitude. I didn’t train quite as hard in the off season. I came in a bit underdone and Jack knew it. I ended up playing the first half of the year in Under 23’s. The second half of the year I got back in and finished the second half of the year in Second Grade. I was happy that I finished at that level.
The following year, 1980, we had to win our final five games of the season and we were a team of nobodies. Paddy Smith was our Captain and 5/8. Terry Fahey got Sent Off in the first ever final against Canterbury. We got beat by Canterbury 10-5 with only 12 men. Things like that I remember, my last year at Souths.
Why did you go back to the Roosters in 1981?
Contract, Roosters offered me a decent contract and Souths only offered me a small amount. I took the gamble and went back to the Roosters. Also Mario was coming through at the time at Souths and I wasn’t in his class. He ended up in the Under 23’s team that won the comp in 1981. They were all coming through and Brian Smith was the coach back then. Talking to Brian Smith afterwards he said I probably did the right thing getting out anyway. He was just tough, him and his brother Joe.
What was it like when you got back to the Roosters?
I started off alright and for some reason I fell out of favour with Bozo and back there I ended up in the Under 23’s again. They signed Jeff Masterman and Bruce Foye at the same time. My cards were a bit limited and I got a little bit despondent with them. At the end of the year I thought to myself that I didn’t know if this was what I wanted to do anymore.
Who was your most respected rival?
A funny thing, a couple of different players. A bloke called Kevin Webb and there was another kid who was a hooker for Penrith by the name of Steve Martin, he played Hooker and played a little bit of First Grade. He played a lot of First Grade before Royce Simmons came along. Both very good players.
When you get into First Grade, no matter what team, you always had respect for them. Canterbury had Pat English. Balmain had three Hookers at the time, they had Neil Whittaker, Noel Maybury and Frank Marino who was a tough man too. If I went through the names there would be just too many of them.
You always enjoyed having a beer with them after the game. It was like a convention thing with Hookers.
Parramatta had another bloke called Tim Logue who was a terrific bloke. They were all Lower Grade players, most of the guys I played were Lower Grade players.
What would you guys talk about over a beer after a game with the opposing Hookers?
You’d talk about different things you did, about different players. Talk about different things in a game so you learn a bit from them. They had something for you and you had something for them. The hooking role back then was a little more complicated. Scrummaging to what you do at Dummy Half, like striking the ball.
So there was more respect when you played each other again and not as much sledging?
You didn’t sledge. There wouldn’t be any personal stuff added. It would be all based on footy.
Who was the best team you played against?
I played two First Grade games straight after each other, one was the Roosters and the next one was against the Dragons and we ended up winning both games.
Steve Edge was Hooker for the Dragons and they had just won the Premiership the year before. Rod Reddy, Robert Finch, Bruce Starkey were playing, they just had a big pack of Forwards. They were the first two games I played and we won and then Gibbo (Jack Gibson) dropped me.
That Roosters team was a good team. I still remember having great battles with Western Suburbs teams. Roy Masters was the Coach, they had Bob Cooper, Alan Neil, a bloke called Ted Scottswood, George Moroco, John Crow, they were just a big team, those sorts of guys were all coming through the Wests system at the time. Enjoyed those battles.
Parramatta had some great players too and a lot of them were School boy players, the White brothers, Peter and Steve White, Steve Gleeson, Glen Crossingham and a lot of them played for Blacktown High, that was the gun school.
Where you fearful coming in to some of these games, some tough players in those days?
No, they were easy to prepare for, you knew what was going to come. You knew it was going to be physical. I prepared the same way for every game. Every game to me was important and they were always hard. It wasn’t like in junior footy where you would beat oa team by eighty one weekend and then get into a hard battle the next weekend. In Grade it was a hard battle with every time you came onto the field.
In 1977 we played Parramatta in a Semi Final in Under 23’s, if we win we are going into the Grand Final. We were in front by a couple of tries with about 15-20 minutes to go and Parramatta put a winger on and that winger scored three tries in about ten minutes. That winger was Eric Grothe. He came on and just went bang, bang, bang.
They had a great side. Steve Ella was terrific.
What followed after playing Rugby League?
I had a couple of years away and I came back in 1986, but it was probably a mistake. It was a mixture of things, not fit enough, we were not a good side. I had been just training on my own doing laps around Centenial Park. I was just training one day and Souths were there and Wally Watson was the Coach at the time and he asked what I was doing. I said “Not much, just training”. He asked if I wanted to come down and have a trial, so I did and they graded me.
In hindsight I don’t think I should have done it. When you have two years away, it is hard to get back in. It is hard, you don’t have those same skills. I et a lot of good players and I wasn’t getting much of a run so I ended up going back and having a run in Park football with my mates, just having a bit of fun. I did that for a couple of years and enjoyed it, then I got to the point where I thought I have had enough.
I broke my neck in 1988. That was the end of me.
How did your neck break?
It happened in a scrum. I was playing A Grade at the time against the Redfern All Blacks at Redfern Oval. I packed into the scrum and heard my neck go click, click, click and I thought I am in trouble. I just laid on the ground. I had all of my feelings and everything, I just had pins and needles. The doctor said “That is actually not a good thing because if it is at the end of your fingers, it has gone right through”.
So basically I had dislocated some discs in my neck. They knocked me out, put a halo around my head and they put it back into place. They put screws into my head. I am fine now. I was in a body cast, in plaster
I appreciate everyday, all the time. My wife was pretty good, she supported me all the way through it.
What got you into coaching?
I was coaching a kids team at the time, Under 17’s Waterloo side.
Darren Brown was coming through at that time. A whole group of kids, we had a good side and they were good kids. I enjoyed being with them and we got a Grand Final over La Parouse. We just had a good group of kids coming through at the time. It was a great Grand Final, they kicked a goal after the Grand Final.
How did your coaching develop?
A good friend of mine Terry Murphy was coaching the Roosters in Jersey Flegg and he asked me if I would like to come over and give him a hand. So I started there in 1990 helping out in the Flegg side. I did three years in the Flegg with the Roosters, up until 1993.
In 1994 Barry Russell ended up as Coach of the Roosters, Under 20’s and they won the comp the year before. I was asked if I would like to Coach the 20’s and I said “I would love to”.
So I started there, but I was a real novice. The Flegg was a good learning curve. They didn’t recruit like they do now. A lot of their players came from trials and some local kids as well.
Shane Millard who is the Second Grade Coach of Norths now, I coached him in the 1992-93 Flegg team and we graded him from trials and then he went on to play First Grade for a couple of years and married into my family, so he went far.
A lot of those kids, I still talk to now.
What happened between 1994 and 2001?
I had four years coaching in Under 20’s and four years coaching Second Grade, so basically I was there for ten years.
From Roosters to Souths, arch enemies, how did you move between the two clubs?
Phil Gould was coach, I learnt a shit load in that time. I learnt a lot from Mark Murray as well. When Ricky came along, there was probably going to be a change of staff there anyway. Souths had got themselves back into the competition and Gus (Phil Gould) basically said to me “Do you want to go over there and give Tugger (Craig Coleman) a hand? They are going to need a bit of help”
I ended up going there on their first year back in, which is a big experience by itself. The first night they got back in was massive, it was a full house. I was Second Grade Coach.
It turns out the Roosters won the comp the year I left, as they do.
I was there (Souths) in 2002 and didn’t stay for 2003. There is always a little bit of drama in the background at Souths.
I ended up going back there in 2004 as Second Grade Coach. Obviously Paul Langmack got sacked halfway through and I was promoted to First Grade Coach. They probably picked me because I was already in the system, I was local. It was always a dream of mine to coach a First Grade side.
Paul Langmack, there was a lot of innuendo at the time, it was a bit of a nightmare. There were rumours flying around everywhere and people were speaking out of school. In the end they just decided to make the decision, it didn’t please everybody, obviously.
I helped them out and I just looked until the end of the year and see what happens after that.
How did it feel being a First Grade Coach at Souths?
It was amazing. To be involved at such a historical club. I kept looking at all of these people. It was a bit of an emotional feeling for me at the time. It was the club I grew up with and the club I loved.
There is a long history of great people who had coached this club. Clive Churchill is one. For me, historically, it was a big step.
Your first game as First Grade Coach at Souths?
It was a Bye weekend, which was a bonus. We put a lot of things in place, just putting simpler game plans in place. How I like to play, told them how I thought. I gave the players a lot more say then they did.
I was basically focusing on bringing the club together. On Monday night we made all three grades train together. Jack Gibson, Beetso and Murray did the same thing. It was successful at the Roosters.
A lot of blokes can’t train on a Monday night because of injury or physio, so if you get them all together, you always had numbers. First Grade would play against Second Grade and Under 20s would be conditioning. Then First Grade would play Under 20s and Second Grade would do conditioning. Then First Grade would do conditioning and Second Grade would play Under 20s.
It worked really well and everyone enjoyed it. It was a bit of fun.
We had a good leader in Ashley Harrison and the team were all professionals. The leadership group was good. The only issues we had was when we were getting beaten and some players weren’t playing that well. We didn’t finish on a good note, we started running out of players through injuries.
How was the rest of your time at Souths as Coach?
The next two years we didn’t start off real well. In 2004 we won 7 from our last 8 games coming home.
In 2005 we had a great forward pack. Bryan Fletcher was there, Shane Walker, Scott Logan, Peter Cusack as well. At the end of the year, three or four of those guys left. Fletch and Logan went to England. We had blokes step up and did a great job, but just weren’t as good.
In 2006 we lost our first 13 games and that is why I got sacked. One thing you do learn, if you are a First Grade Coach to look after your own recruitment. The players you bring to the club are players that you want. Your recruitment is the most important thing at any club. You need to get players that suit your system, and in the end we had a lot of players that were going to come that didn’t come. So we went out a little bit underdone, we were always going to struggle.
Russell Crowe was buying the club at the time so that was also unsettling. It was just a difficult time to be there.
In 2007 you went to the Balmain?
I went to Balmain who were at Ryde Eastwood at the time. We got beat in the Knockout Semi Final, strangely enough, by Norths. Tim Sheens was Coaching the First Grade side. That was a difficult area to Coach, there was all sorts of drama behind the scenes as well with the two entities underneath Wests Tigers. They didn’t like each other.
Still, a lot of good blokes and a lot of good players, many of which I am still friends with today.
A lot of blokes I have coached over the years I am still good friends with today, that is the legacy for me I suppose.
And you coached the Fiji side?
Yes I did, in 2008. I got into that role because I was coaching the Australian Fijian team. The Fijians would come over here and they thought they could do everything. They got here and played Samoa in the first game and got beat. They realised they needed a bit of help.
I came over and helped them. We beat Tonga in the next game by 30-28. Then we had to beat Cook Islands to get in and we beat them pretty convincingly and we ended up getting in to make the World Cup.
They played Tonga the following year. We had some disagreements with the board. Again, they thought they knew a little more than they do. We were playing a game in Tonga and we got hammered, the referee killed us and we only got beaten by two points. We were supposed to have a bus for us, the bus didn’t turn up until 11pm and we finished playing at 7pm. A few of the players said they wanted to go, so they left and the Fijians didn’t appreciate that. I said, you know what, lets just call it a day. If you can’t support your players then it is not really what I want to do. So we agreed to part ways and we did and they ended up playing in the World Cup the following year.
It was however a great experience. We were training at Fiji’s home ground. I loved the experience and the players are fantastic. They do what you ask, they are very polite. I guess a lot of them want to get out of there as well and have a crack at the NRL. We brought a couple of them over. One of them played for Wests Tigers.
What happened after that?
This will be a long interview. I went back to Souths Juniors and asked if they had a spot there and I thought I will do something just to keep myself occupied. I helped coach the Matthew Shield and SG Ball for a couple of years there.
Dylan Walker and Alex Johnson and those guys came through that time. I really enjoyed it, it was good fun, just being with kids again, the development side because that is my favourite side.
I am at the stage now where I am ready to finish, I have done my time.
And your family life?
I have two daughters, one daughter from my first marriage, that is Natalie. She was born in 1982, it wasn’t all perfect, she is a good kid and loves her footy, used to tag her along. Beetso used to look after her at some games. She loved it. We always had the best seats in the house.
My second daughter is not quite as sporting, more on her Mums side. She is doing lots of things, she is 17 years old going on 21-22. She is part of a chapter in a book. The name of the book is “Better Business, Better Life, Better World”. Very proud, very smart girl.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
They have made it for TV. They have made the game quick. They have done this for TV but in doing that they have made it almost impossible to referee. The more they change the rules, the more difficult the game gets. Every time they change a rule, they take a skill away.
There is no contest now. You can’t scrummage. You can’t play at the ball, that is what has made a quick play the ball. If George Piggins was there, he would just go “Thank you” and rake it back.
All those things. Tapping the ball when getting up at marker.
The wrestling has spoilt it. There are two in a tackle and then you get a third bloke come in. Have a look at some of the old tapes of Origin matches, there were never more than two in the tackle. As a kid you were taught, one high and one low. Now they are taught both high to lock the ball up. It is probably a negative on itself, most coaches just tell there forwards to run it up and get a quick play the ball, they don’t want to offload.
There is no skill, like pass around the corner, you don’t see players holding the ball in one arm for the offload. Everything is by the book, it is boring.
Did you keep a scrapbook?
My daughter has a scrap book. I have bits and pieces from my coaching, but my daughter has my playing. I have still got trophies from when I was a kid.
What is your favourite restaurant?
The Corinthian, a little Greek restaurant in Marrickville.